Block

Fingers hover, poised above board, the keys to composure.
Energy drains to less than nothing, apathy creeps
in, sleep beckons with droopy fingers, except
I woke not long ago, optimism soaked,
creative vitamins popped, vitality
bursting skin with sparks of
fragments of ideas. What
drained this resolve?
I see it hunched,
plodding
away.

A new kind of Counsellor: Alison McVey

Today at the Conclave, we are pleased to welcome Alison McVey of the Night Shift Nurse, who is currently working on her first book. Alison is a relationship counsellor and sex therapist.

Welcome to the Conclave, Alison. Delighted to have you with us.

Thank you, I’m honored to be here!

The internet has opened up all kinds of possibilities and career opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined before, and this is the case with you. Could you tell us about your work in relationship counselling, and the general philosophy behind your business?

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The Internet is amazing! It has opened up the doors to people that have resisted asking for medical help, have issues with basic socialization, and those that keep their relationship problems hidden away for fear of judgement. I am looking to mend and improve relationships through the wonders of bedroom adventures and communication. I bring the marriage counselor and the sex therapist out of the office and into your own home.

What led you to this line of work?

I started out my career in geriatrics. I watched and studied couples that had amazing love stories. I asked them their secrets. The best part of talking to couples at the end of their lives, is they have no filter. No shame or embarrassment in spilling all of their dirty little secrets and tips! I was blessed to be raised in a home where love, honor and respect were not only expected, but shown through the way they interacted with each other. I was brought up to be proud of myself, have self worth, and not to be ashamed of my sexuality.

Have you faced opposition and criticism for your career choice?

At times, I have. Being on the Internet, I’ve had questions from all over the world. Not always polite or respectful. Some women have been harder on me than any man ever would. While I have modern views on being creative, I have old-fashioned views on self respect and lasting relationships. Everyone’s grandmother has at one time has said, “Why buy the cow, when the milk is free?” in one variation or another. I live by this. We live in a world where women are sending naked selfies to a man before he even takes her on a date. I shout out, sometimes loudly, this has got to stop! Respect yourself and respect your future partner. Find love, and build an amazing home with a strong foundation and room to grow… and never stop growing.

What do you feel you can offer that a cousellor in a traditional face-to-face setting cannot?

By talking to me from their home, computer or smart phone, it takes away the nervousness of an office visit, keeps them in your comfort zone, and works around their schedule. Men find it much easier to share their inadequacies incognito, and in turn women aren’t holding in the questions they really want to ask. I can get to the root of their marital problems much more rapidly than a therapist in an office. Where in some face-to-face occasions it can take several sessions to even crack the ice, I can usually get the deeply rooted problem out in the open immediately. They feel safe and secure when their identity is protected.

Do you feel that people respond better to a woman than they would to a man in the same job?

That’s a good question. If you are compassionate, a peacemaker, creative, knowledgeable, and have the communication skills needed, it doesn’t matter what your gender is. It’s all about how people respond to you. I believe that all little girls can become superheroes… but so can all little boys.

Thankfully, we have come a long way since the days when women were told to lie back and think of England, or just put up with it. Do you believe that relationships between the sexes have developed more positively since then?

In the modern world, absolutely! Men and women are taking active roles to please each other and themselves. Relationships are growing in and out of the bedroom. Of course, in some areas of the world we are sadly still behind, but we are on the right path. Recently, female genital mutilation was banned in Nigeria. It’s steps like these that bring hope to the rest of the world.

Now tell us about your writing. I understand that your book is on the same subject as your business. When did you start writing?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. Love poems to my school crush, songs, letters to my favourite authors and athletes. Building a fantasy world for myself and diving in.

That sounds like a familiar tale. Now, about your writing technique. Despite sex being a natural act, yours is still a subject many consider taboo, or wish to talk about only in clinical terms. Do you find you have to choose your words carefully, or have you already concluded that you can’t win everyone over?

The opposite from choosing my words carefully! I’ve found if I write in technical terms, I lose the focus of my reader. I’ve actually had to learn to turn the potty mouth on! Say the words, let yourself get embarrassed… and let that grow to excited, and be passionate with your lover.

Do you see your writing as a promotional tool for your business, or do you see it as more than that? What do you hope people will take from it?

Strengthening relationships is my business. I hope that couples take the knowledge that nothing should be off limits in their own bedroom. That relationships should not be left to grow cold. If you are lonely as you lie beside someone, it is time to change. I am here to help.

Thank you for talking to us today, and we wish you all the best with your work.

Thank you, it’s been truly my pleasure.

Discoveries

I’ve been a bit adrift following a blizzard of activity to meet a deadline. So I decided to do a bit of electronic decluttering and reorganising. My files aren’t very organised to start with, and I’ve got bits and pieces of writing, journals, notes, fragments, everywhere. So I’ve been opening documents and seeing what’s inside. And I found this, a list of words at the start of a summary about some collaborative reflective writing about mirrors (pun intended). I have no idea why I wrote this list or what I was thinking when I picked out those words and placed them in this order, but I love the poetry, and I love the way you can insert your own punctuation to create different meanings depending on how you group the words. Here they are:

Think
Write
Time
Light
Mirror
Like
Really
Dark
Thing
Metaphor
Just
Space

My first poem with them, just playing, is:

Think, write.
Time, light.
Mirror, like really dark thing.
Metaphor.
Just…
Space.

And what if I put them in alphabetical order and then group them anew?

Dark
Just
Light
Like
Metaphor
Mirror
Really
Space
Thing
Think
Time
Write

Dark:
Just light,
like metaphor.
Mirror, really, space thing.
Think time.
Write.

I think I prefer the first one.

The Short Story Lady

Here at the Conclave we talked to Carol Ferro, known as the Short Story Lady, about her work and her stories.

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Thankyou for being here, Carol. Now, to start with, you call yourself the ‘Short Story Lady’. What does that mean?

I love short stories, be they traditional fairytales or snippets of observational prose. I am also only 5 feet tall, so the name ‘Short Story Lady’ is a dangling modifier, as both the stories and the storyteller are short!

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Very clever! I do like plays on language like that. Let’s hear more about your work. Tell us about your book “Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist”. What made you write a full-length book? Do you see it as a departure from your short story work, or its progression?

“Memoirs of a Madcap Cyclist” is a collection of 100 stories, each exactly 100 words long, 12442773_579105965579451_400392435_nall on the topic of cycling. I wrote it because I wanted to combine my love of cycling with my tendency to narrate my life. Most of the stories are based on things I noticed while out on my bike, memories of childhood cycling, and tales collected from my cyclist friends. It’s very much a progression of my short story work, taking the short story genre to its logical conclusion. I enjoyed working to an exact word count, it was interesting making each word  matter in each story.

100 times 100 words! How intriguing. What do you hope readers will take from it?

I hope readers will find the book fascinating, entertaining and edifying in equal measure. All aspects of cycling are in there, from balance bikes to racing trikes, green lights to green tarmac, there’s something in there for everyone. It’s a window into my cycling experience, and while I might not be the fastest cyclist on the road, I definitely have fun on the bike.

It sounds like fun! Did you choose to go with a traditional publisher?

I actually teamed up with another local storyteller called Sharon Richards, who wanted to move into publishing. She set up her own publishing company and I wrote its first title, “Drabble Folk and Fairytales” to get the ball rolling. It was a steep learning curve for both of us, but having self-published my first book as an ebook gave me the confidence to make the move into print. I formatted several books for Sharon, getting far more “hands-on” than I would have been able to with a larger or more established publisher.

The publishing sounds like an adventure in itself. Quite a daunting prospect! I am glad to see it hasn’t put you off. Tell us about other work you have written.

My first book is a self-published Young Adult novella called “The Strangeling’s Tale”. Each chapter is a self-contained story which weaves into a larger tale, reaching a gripping conclusion. Transformation, love, loss, bravery and sacrifice abound in this gem of a book.

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My Second book, “Drabble Folk and Fairy Tales”, contains all the fairytales you’ll remember from childhood, a few you won’t have heard of and a few I made up myself. A Drabble is a story containing exactly 100 words, and this book has 100 of them.

Another 100 times 100! I spot a recurring theme here. What is your next project? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on a prequel to “The Strangeling’s Tale”, but I keep getting distracted by storytelling bookings at schools, libraries and events. It’s tough being in such demand, but I can’t let my public down! My next big project is an event at local libraries to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of Roald Dahl’s birth. I’m in charge of co-ordinating all the storytelling, craft activities, quizzes and costumes, and chasing ever elusive funding streams. Still, if it’s anything like as popular as my previous library events, the libraries will be buzzing with activity.

I must say that sounds like a lot of fun and I wish you every success with it. Thankyou for sharing your story with us.

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Carol’s work is available here

And you can find out more about her life as the Short Story Lady here

Wheel-Mouse vs All the Crazy Robots

Wheel-Mouse vs All The Crazy Robots

This is about a book and about a little girl. Celyn Lawrence has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. This means that she cannot move anything except her eyes.She also has to contend with life threatening epilepsy and she is life limited. And within that treacherous body that won’t work as Celyn deserves, there is a fabulous imagination, one that has produced a glorious work of children’s fantasy.

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The story is about a young mouse in a wheelchair. Wheel-Mouse, as she is called, has a marvellous magical power – zumming. This is something like zooming, only better, faster, more exciting. One terrible day something happens on Earth: robots land and start to spoil the place with their poo! With her magical zumming, it is Wheel-Mouse’s task to come up with a plot to do away with the robots and save the Earth. Simple, yet hilarious, this is a story children will enjoy tremendously, and laugh all the way through. And perhaps it will also inspire them to look twice at their wheel-chair using peers.

This is a lovely little book for children, written by a girl who was just 8 years old at the time of writing, and whose sense of humour is what shines out from the pages.

Not only that, but the book is for a generous cause: all proceeds go to the Children’s Hospice charity for terminally ill and life-limited children.

And here is Celyn herself, presenting the cheque for the money raised so far to the Hospice:

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You can watch Wheel-Mouse here on youtube, and it is available to buy on Amazon Kindle:

UK Customers

US/ International Customers

Interview with Author Sharon Tregenza

Today I am excited to welcome author Sharon Tregenza to the Conclave of Sappho. Sharon Tregenza is the author of The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide, two adventure books aimed at pre-teens. My own children have read Sharon’s work and enjoyed it enormously, and I highly recommend these books. Welcome, Sharon!

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First of all – tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
I read prolifically and I’m a big Netflix fan. Good drama is always a thrill. I enjoy education for is own sake too and recently completed a second Masters degree. I have a wide circle of family and friends – so I love having people stay.
When did you start writing? Or have you always done so?
I’ve always written is the pat answer but I began writing for publication many years ago – mostly stories for magazines and competitions.
Have you written other novels/works that have not been published?
Odd you should ask that. Many years ago a big publisher showed a great deal of interest in my first children’s book – there was even talk of an animated film. When it was suddenly dropped I was heart-broken. I tucked it away in a dusty corner of my computer and forgot about it. Recently I’ve taken it out, dusted it off, and taken another look at it. I think it still has potential so I’m reworking it and will see what my agent thinks.
Very pleased to hear that, and I look forward to hearing more about it. Now, onto your published work. What inspired you to write The Shiver Stone and Tarantula Tide?
I remember vividly the influence books had on me when I was eight to twelve years old. I wanted to recreate that myself. Both of those books have the sense of mystery and adventure that thrilled me then.
Do the characters in Tarantula Tide live through the adventure you dreamt of having as a young girl?
Being terrified of spiders I would have been much more like Jack than Izzie!
What about the location – does Shetland mean anything special to you?
I only visited once many years ago – my husband worked in the oil industry – but the strange treeless landscape had a deep effect on me.
You seem to have an affinity with nature: animals are portrayed as suffering in The Shiver Stone – a pony and a dog. Is there a message you are trying to put across here?THE SHIVER STONE COVER
There is an element of anti-cruelty to creatures in both of those books. Something I feel very strongly about.
The underlying topics in your books, such as dark secrets and dangerous adventures, are not simple matters. What do you think about introducing children to these themes?
I think it’s important for children to explore different themes and experience (even if it is from the safety of their own homes). Secrets and danger have has been an important part of children’s literature.
How about the level of vocabulary in your books? Do you think we should introduce children to more advanced vocabulary, or is it best to keep it simple?
“Never write down to kids” is a lesson frequently reiterated by children’s authors past and present and I couldn’t agree more. I always found that books that challenged as well as entertained stayed with me longest. Learning new words and expressions is a thrilling part of the challenge.
What is the overall impression you hope readers will take from your books? Are there lessons for children to learn?
There are always lessons for children to learn from books but hopefully they are absorbed as a natural part of the reading process – not imparted as “wisdom” to be acquired.
What’s next? Are you planning a sequel for each one?
Hmm, there’s plenty of “next” happening. I am writing two more stand-alone mystery books and I also have a meeting with a big publisher coming up to discuss the possibility of a picture book (something I’ve always wanted to do). Exciting times.

Thankyou, Sharon, and I wish you the best with your upcoming projects.

The Shiver Stone was highly commended for the Welsh Children’s Book Award 2015 and is available here.

Tarantula Tide was the winner of the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Award 2010 and is available here.

Irish: a brief history of an endangered language

Grían an Mheithimh in úllghort,
Is síosamach i síoda an trathnona,
Beach mhallaithe ag portaireacht
Mar screadstracadh ar an noinbhrat.

(June sun in an orchard,
And a rustling in the silk of evening,
A cursed bee humming
Is a screamtear in the eveningshroud)

Seán O Riordáin

The above is a stanza from ‘Adhlacadh mo Mháthar’ (‘Burial of my Mother’) written by my great uncle Seán O Riordáin, an Irish poet. There are very few people left in the world who can read or understand his beautiful poetry.

Once, Irish (note: not ‘Gaelic’) was the sole language spoken in Ireland. It is a Gaelic language of the Indo-European language family and evidence of its presence in Ireland dates back to the 4th century CE.

When the Anglo-Normans arrived at the end of the 11th century their language came with them. The vast majority of people continued to speak Irish but it slowly lost its status as the official and legal language of Ireland.

The Tudor conquest of Ireland in the 16th century was the beginning of the end for Irish. The confiscation of land from native Irish people and the forcible plantation of English settlers over the subsequent centuries changed Irish society profoundly. Penal laws prevented Catholics from owning land and holding power, which meant that the Catholic ruling classes were replaced by what became known as the Protestant Ascendancy. Irish was seen as a threat to the power of English settlers and so its use was discouraged in law, education and administration. English was the language of power, and it was in the interest of Irish natives to learn it.

A further blow was dealt to the language by the Great Famine caused by widespread failure of the potato crop due to blight. It lasted from 1845 to 1860 and caused the deaths of approximately one million people. A further million emigrated. By 1911, the population of Ireland had halved to 4.4 million, while the population in England and Wales had doubled to sixteen million. The majority of Irish speaking people had died, emigrated or were living in very poor conditions in a small and struggling country. It was necessary to learn English to survive.

When Ireland began struggling for independence from Britain in the late 19th century, Irish became a focal point for political rhetoric. The so-called Gaelic Revival led to the setting up of organisations such as the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language in 1877 and the Gaelic League in 1892. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), formed in 1884, was set up to preserve uniquely Irish pastimes such as hurling. Irish is named as the national and first official language of Ireland in the 1937 constitution of the Republic of Ireland and all official documents are available in both Irish and English.

Today, Irish is a compulsory subject for every single child at school, from the start to the end of their school career, meaning that most children have at least twelve years of Irish language lessons. In 1996 an Irish-language television station, originally called Teilifis na Gaeilge, now called TG4, was set up. Over the past twenty years the popularity of gaelscoileanna – schools that teach entirely through Irish – has increased greatly. However, in spite of all of these successes, very few people leave school with any degree of fluency in Irish. Today less than 100,000 people use Irish as their daily tongue. They tend to be concentrated in ‘Gaeltacht’ areas, parts of Ireland such as Connemara where the government recognises that the Irish language is the predominant vernacular.

 

In future posts I’ll explore my experiences of Irish as a child, the structure of the language itself and the English phrases and expressions that developed from the Irish language.